A Conceptual Framework to improve the design of sustainable off-grid microgrid systems for remote communities in developing countries
From job creation to economic development, from security concerns to the full empowerment of women, energy lies at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - agreed to by the world’s leaders in September 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda. In the words of former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, increased social equity, and an environment that allows the world to thrive." Approximately 1 billion people in the world today have no access to electricity, and the issues are dominating in the remote communities of the developing countries. Decentralized systems have existed over a couple of decades to provide electricity provisions in the off-grid communities devoid of the necessary energy services. The literature, however, suggests that off-grid systems have failed in delivering the tasks set forth to curb the electricity crisis. The crisis has resulted in communities primarily residing in the remote/islanded areas having lower social and economic status compared to the urban areas with centralized grid connectivity. A further review of the literature points to a lack of a detailed standard framework for cross-sectional evaluation of sustainability and reliability of the off-grid systems, which results in non-uniformity of the universal electricity access. Given this, the main objective of the thesis is to establish a conceptual framework to improve the design of remote off-grid microgrid systems through a Techno-Economic Assessment (TEA) approach, by implementing a mixed-research approach. The research strategy adopted to advance knowledge and for achieving the objective of the research follows the Technology and Policy Assessment (TPA) approach, developed by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKREC). The research evaluation design involves formative evaluations where questionnaires designed for investigating failure cases of remote microgrids are introduced, and a conceptual framework is developed, based on the lessons learned. The conceptual framework comprising of modules incorporates essential features of improving the TEA of the remote microgrids and emphasizes on features like stakeholder assessments, sustainability aspects, energy management, and improving energy efficiency as well as overall system autonomy of the rural off-grid systems. Furthermore, following the TPA approach, the conceptual framework has been verified by involving a focus group. IEEE-Sustainable Energy Systems for Developing Communities (SESDC) was involved in the research verification process. The proposed conceptual framework was validated by incorporating a quantitative analysis to situate the research findings. The research findings in the thesis contribute extensively to the body of knowledge by establishing a standard framework indicating the importance of energy-efficient approaches towards scaling up sustainable remote microgrids for solving energy crisis issues. As it were, the practical contribution of the thesis is critical in identifying and characterizing the dimensions of the Sustainable Developing Goal 7 for “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” and its impact on the other SDGs, thereby enabling progress towards the target 2030 of the United Nations.